Northwestern stuns No. 6 Texas, struggles in final two games of opening weekend
By Logan Schiciano
Northwestern softball opened the 2023 season going 2-2 at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Florida over the weekend.
The crazy thing is, they easily could’ve gone 0-4.
Northwestern won its first two games in typical Wildcats fashion. Kate Drohan’s squad came from behind to beat Southern Alabama 8-5 and upset No. 6 Texas after trailing 8-3 early in the game.
Jordyn Rudd had 5 RBI, including a three-run triple to open the scoring against Southern Alabama. She later tied the game with an RBI single and Hannah Cady put Northwestern on top with a long two-run double.
But after an instant classic against Texas on Friday night, Northwestern scored just one run against Missouri and was shut out against No. 13 Tennessee. Despite back-to-back quiet offensive performances, the ‘Cats biggest concern may be in the circle.
Here are three takeaways from this weekend’s games.
Perhaps the most glaring weakness of last year’s team was the lack of pitching depth. Ace Danielle Williams threw 251 innings in 2022 – that’s 117.1 more innings than all other pitchers on Northwestern combined. After the ‘Cats first weekend of play, it’s clear coach Drohan is still searching for answers behind Williams.
After being used in every game of the postseason last spring, Williams tossed just seven of the 28 innings the ‘Cats played over the weekend. Graduate transfer Cami Henry, and returners Sydney Supple and Lauren Boyd all got to audition, and the results were mixed at best.
Supple’s time in the circle was limited last year but she impressed on Friday, holding No. 6 Texas to only two runs across five innings. The senior walked just one batter and allowed Northwestern to claw its way back and knock off a Longhorns squad that made it to the NCAA championship series last year.
Henry showed signs of dominance. Her pitches have tons of movement, but control seemed to be a problem as she struck out six, but walked four over 8.1 innings. The Depauw transfer went the distance on Sunday against Tennessee, though she surrendered 11 hits and allowed four runs.
Boyd also had her ups and downs, scattering six earned runs over seven innings. Her best outing came against Missouri when she got the start and limited the Tigers to just one run, navigating out of a bases-loaded jam in the third frame.
Northwestern faced some of the toughest teams in the country right out of the gate this weekend, which meant a lot of high leverage situations for the pitchers. While there’s still plenty of room for growth, experience facing such strong offenses should serve the ‘Cats well down the stretch.
Nader controls right field
The departure of Rachel Lewis left a gaping hole in right field for the ‘Cats, but it seems like freshman Kelsey Nadar is ready to fill it. Nader started every game in right and even batted second for Northwestern in the finale against Tennessee.
The freshman has shown no signs of nerves thus far, picking up a team-high five hits, including a clutch two-run single to tie the score in the sixth inning against the Longhorns. Nader also drew four walks (the most on the team), has blazing speed and flashed her strong arm a couple times in the outfield.
The right field job appears to be Nader’s to lose at this point in the season.
Dialed-in on defense
While Northwestern’s bats were largely shut down in its final two games of the weekend, its defense was on full display.
Grace Nieto and Cady made a pair of terrific catches in foul territory against Tennessee. The ‘Cats also turned multiple double plays; Rudd caught a runner stealing second; and Angela Zedak nabbed a Volunteer trying to score with a bullet throw to the plate.
Northwestern’s sure-handedness around the diamond was one of its biggest assets in 2022 and while the ‘Cats did commit a few too many errors in Clearwater, expect plenty of Wildcat web gems to clog up your Twitter feed over the next few months.